Difficult to escape from my day job, I find myself honing in on statements while I am entertaining myself in the evening. Such as from the movie Beginners, when the son says, “You’re not getting better, there is no stage 5 …You have stage 4 cancer…”
And his father says, “That’s not what it means…it means you’ve been through 3 other stages.”
(Ahhh, denial is a wonderful coping mechanism!)
Then when the father goes into his next medical appointment, he hears from the doctor, “Hal, You don’t need to come in for any more treatments”. And he asks, “Is there something wrong?” Doc says “It’s best you stay home, hospice can help you more now…” (I always tremor at the assumption that when ALL ELSE FAILS, hospice might be a worthy consideration… Last ditch effort… Anticlimactic ending…rarely presented as a treatment decision in itself, choosing hospice). Hope does survive, though, even with hospice.
In the same week I listened to two people, in very different scenarios, who both received a life-limiting cancer diagnosis that suddenly rocked their worlds. They shared the same end of life goal, “I want to be at the high school graduation”.
Greg speaks in a bold voice that he plans to “Fight like hell”. His doctor has told him there isn’t much available for treatment, but Greg has a young son with many years ahead who needs a father. He shares about his experience in the past, one of those “near death” events. He lay in the street with a mortal wound and felt his body separate, and like Superman, the part of him that was conscious shot like a bullet through the sky. Until this sudden motion disintegrated into shards of energy and he found himself again joined to the earthly body, full of pain and struggling to breathe, and he realized there was still life left and he heard himself from a distance say: “Not yet. I’m not dying yet”. He has that same realization today. When he receives the prognosis for the cancer that is invading his blood and bones, he says out loud, “Not yet. I have to be here for my son”. Hope survives.
And Char, who only a month ago was enjoying the creative expression she finds so meaningful in her writing and music, now has difficulty playing her instrument because the cancer has zapped every molecule of energy and she has to fight to stay alive. Her medical team didn’t expect her to survive the discharge from the hospital, yet here she is: alive for another week, another month, hoping to see her daughter reach adulthood. Shyly she tells me, “It sounds a little weird, and maybe you won’t understand. I experienced it. I came through death, to the other side, and now I am not afraid. But I have so much to live for.” Hope rises.
I listen as they tell me about their hopes and fears. I am certain none of us are completely free of fear, when death comes knocking. Life is so full of sweet surprise, and love is shared every day on this earth, and that makes leaving it behind a lot harder. Acceptance does not preclude deciding to grasp every day, and reach for your goal. And hospice does not mean an admission of defeat without hope, either. I have heard so many stories of the shock and sadness, and amid that, the burning determination to reach the goal, whatever that might be. Life holds hope in every breath we take. Another day, another week, another month, with moments shared now, memories made today, and always hope… just to be another day closer to graduation.